We are watching history being made: after decades of being in the shadows, queer drama is now singing and dancing into the mainstream. Theatre after theatre is staging stories about queer, trans and non-binary individuals, often taking a thrillingly imaginative approach to how their lives are represented. Just as the theory of queerness questions the heteronormative binaries of male/female, straight/gay or normal/abnormal so a lot of queer theatre is now bursting the boundaries of traditional theatre productions, typically mixing genres and styles to tell new stories.
This is certainly the case with Vinnie Heaven’s Faun, a feelgood show which is currently touring the UK. It is the story of Ace, a 22-year-old non-binary trans guy who works shifts, but is almost penniless, so they have no place live and are currently sofa-surfing. In fact, this is sofa number 13, and it is located in the living room of Paige, a cis female who works in social media marketing, and her boyfriend Ant, a bar manager who loves late-night video gaming. While Ace is pretty good at the social skills needed to stay in other people’s flats, they soon run into problems with Ant and Paige.
You know, it’s the usual flat-sharing stuff — from feeling in the way when the other two want to watch television together to eating some of Paige’s exclusive posh crisps — but tensions definitely rise when Ace and Ant have sex one night. Now Ace’s survival tactics are really put to the test, and their appearance — which gets more and more faun-like with every interaction that requires them to literally “fawn” over the other person — becomes increasingly goatish, with pointed ears, short horns, stubby tail and hairy legs. It’s a beautiful way of showing how the things we unwillingly do are imprinted on our body.
Heaven’s writing frequently breaks the fourth wall to give us advice on the etiquette of living with others and not paying rent, and the central image of the half-goat, half-human faun is brilliantly played for laughs. The episode when they play the pan pipes is hilarious and full of comic energy. Gradually you come to appreciate the aptness of this metaphorical creature: not only the queerness of being neither one nor the other (or both and more), but also the way that the cash-strapped sofa surfer tries to fit in by erasing themselves, by being as small or unobtrusive as they can. Or by doing stuff to please others.
But once Paige throws Ace onto the streets, they begin a fantastical journey through a magic queer forest where they meet the tough-loving Doe, and her giant Plant companion, who give them some lovely lessons in self-help and self-esteem. Okay, it’s a little didactic, a little finger-wagging, but at the same time the charm of the situation and its psychological truth shines through. Despite prejudice and social pressure, it’s great to assert the fluidity of personal identity and celebrate the ability to change. By the end of the 80-minute play, a Stag appears, with glitter antlers, to conduct the de-fawning ceremony — cue more glitter. And more fun.
The mix of cabaret and burlesque, as well as the elements of sheer fantasy, gives the show a wonderfully optimistic glow, with comedy making the serious themes of the social acceptance of trans people and the problem of youth homelessness a pleasure to think about. There is a welcome theatrical intelligence and energy in Debbie Hannan’s lovely production, with the forest and living-room set simply if beautifully designed by Jacob Lucy. Co-produced by Cardboard Citizens, Theatre 503 and Alphabetti theatre in Newcastle, Faun is exemplary in showing how you can tackle serious issues with a soft touch.
All this depends on a great cast, and their commitment and vigour giving the evening its delightful zing. Aitch Wylie’s Ace offers a neat mix of surface smarm which is undercut by their running, truth-telling commentary. The character’s strength as well their vulnerability slowly become apparent as they navigate their path to self-acceptance in the queer community. Equally impressive are Nyah Randon as the controlling Paige and the supportive Doe, and Afton Moran as the lively Ant, Plant (great comedy) and Stag (superb). Together they create a show that is both joyful and thought-provoking.
- Faun is touring until 13 May.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.
This post was written by Aleks Sierz.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.